Archive for August 2011

CM #4: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

I chose A Clockwork Orange from the summer reading list because it was one of the better dystopian books that I had not yet read and it had been on my radar for a long time.  Also, I had heard of its innovative style and intriguing colloquial language, so that piqued my interest as well.  The book, both throughout my reading of it and after I had finished it, reminded me a little bit of A Catcher in the Rye.  Although Alex’s mischief is much more extreme and cruel than Holden’s, both are troubled young souls wandering around the capitals of their respective countries (London and New York).  Both however, amid their streaks of poor decisions and confusion, strongly hold on to a single vestige of purity and elevate it to a noble pedestal above the rest of their muddles lives.  For Holden it is his innocent younger sister, Phoebe, while for Alex it is the music of Ludwig van Beethoven and other talented classical composers.  However, the books differ from that point as Holden travels on a personal journey, while Alex is forcefully directed by the state onto a path of “righteousness”.  A Clockwork Orange is one of the most incredible experiences in storytelling in my opinion because of the language style and usage.  It is unique in the fact that it the only book written in English that I have had to translate the majority of narration and dialogue as I read along.  Burgess creates a dystopian future set in London where young malchicks (adolescent gangsters) rule the city at night.  These young thugs partake in acts of “ultraviolence”,which can range from looting to rape to murder.  To the adults of the city, these teenagers are nefarious menaces who speak an almost foreign dialect and live to cause mayhem.  However to the malchicks themselves, these sinister activities are almost a game to them.  They are incredibly casual about their violence, and treat it as just another way to pass the time.  For this reason among others, A Clockwork Orange appealed to me as I was interested in how the strong state control and its current atmosphere could so change the sentiments of the youth to lead them to consider violence a part of their daily routine.  An example of this excellent storytelling can be found in this ironic passage that shows the lack of understanding of the youth by the adults.  In this passage Alex talks about his appreciation of classical music contrasted against his observation that adults  want the youth to be more civilized and that the medium to do this through is music.  The irony is of course that that Alex truly loves beautiful, cultured music, yet he is one of the most violent teenagers on the street.  Here is the passage itself:

There was music playing, a very nice malenky string quartet, my brothers, by Claudius Birdman, one that I knew well.  I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I’d viddied once in of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged.  Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized.  Civilized my syphilised yarbles.

As one can see from the passage Alex has little respect for his “elders” and this feeling is reflected in the rest of the youth in London.  The story itself is divided into three parts, the first deals with Alex’s criminal actions, the second with his arrest, imprisonment, and  experimental “re-education” by the government where he is conditioned to become sick at even the thought of violence.  The title itself reveals the most interesting bit of storytelling, as a clockwork orange means that the person whom this term is describing seems full of life and emotions but really he is only a clockwork toy that can do right or wrong and is controlled by the state.  The state effectively takes his willpower (however bad it was in the first place it still did belong to him) and manages to make his life more difficult than it was before his imprisonment and “operation”.  For instance one of the doctors transforming Alex says this after Alex says that he will no longer do ill after days of his torturous reeducation, “‘The heresy of an age of reason,’ or some slovos. ‘I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong.  No, no, my boy, you must leave it all to us.  But be cheerful about it.  It will soon be all over.  In less than a fortnight now you’ll be a free man.’

The state has completed taken away Alex’s decision-making process and he effectively becomes a pawn in their sprawling and convoluted political game.  These themes are some of the more interesting ones throughout the novel, and are the reason that I enjoyed the book as much as I did.

CM #3: My 10 (23) Most Memorable Books

1. 1984, George Orwell.  My first dystopian novel and also the first book that caused me to sit and think about the changing state of the world after I had finished reading it.

2. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.  While Orwell’s classic talks of a totalitarian government that gives its people nothing, Huxley’s novel describes a state where the people are distracted into an existence of mind numbing passivity.  Possibly a more likely path for America at the rate we are going.

3. Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.  A thoroughly depressing novel for librarians, Bradbury’s work is both poignant and possibly a slightly bit prescient as we stare into a future dominated by social media and the Internet.

4.  Atlas Shrugged/The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand.  My literary introduction to parts of my current libertarian political philosophy, these two books differ in plot line and character development, but concur on the same theme of individuality and the value of one’s own work.  While in my my opinion The Fountainhead is better written on account of Rand’s rather cardboard cutout characters in Atlas Shrugged (you can tell who is good or evil depending upon how attractive their physical appearance is), both have had a monumental impact on my beliefs.

5. The Hyperion Cantos, Dan Simmons.  An excellently woven space opera that bestowed upon me a dual feeling of regret (at having completed the series so quickly) and admiration (for the wondrous storytelling).  This series has everything from space-faring combat priests to a galactic leader who gives speeches that combine the rhetoric of both Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

6. The Other End of Time, Frederik Pohl.  This story blew me away As the title suggests this novel has an almost unprecedented scope as the story travels to pretty much the end of time.  Amidst this massive scale is an intriguing story of a budding colony that struggles, survives, and thrives.

7. The Egyptian Novels, Wilbur Smith.  Another fantastic tale of four novels that tells the story of several generations of Egyptian rulers and their struggles against enemies both foreign and domestic.  The series is fictional as many of the ruling families in this series are guided by a super eunuch who is at once a scribe, accountant, steward, magician, as well as being much more.

8. The Long Walk, Stephen King (Richard Bachman).  A harrowing story that really impacted me because of how close the age of the competitors in the “race” was to my own.  Any story in which the “winner” goes insane at the end is most certainly a memorable one.

9. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood.  Yes, there is kind of a dystopian theme here, but I really believe that these novels are some of the most critical in terms of understanding the oppressions and repressions of past governments (of their citizens) and how to avoid similar totalitarian states in current and future times.

10. The Harry Potter Books (#1-7), J.K. Rowling.  They have to be on here, no matter the objection.  They flew with me through childhood and into teenage adolescence and like millions of other people I rushed to my nearest bookstore the second thy claim out in order to claim my copy.  The triumphs and failures of Harry and his friends have so impacted me that I almost cried when I finished reading the last one.  There was just so much anticipation and joy associated with each one that for them to be over was simply devastating.  But they were strong and enchanting throughout (even magical one might say) and they concluded well, and in the end that is all that really matters for this particularly memorable series.

CM #2 The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Novel of Fine Storytelling

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is a well-crafted story of extreme beauty and even more extreme hedonism.  It is also a story filled with psychological analysis, both of Lord Henry analyzing Dorian and of the reader analyzing all the characters and the story in general.  Art is a key theme in the book, and the artist and his subject also play important roles in showcasing the beauty of youth, as well as beauty in general.  A passage from the book that I believe epitomizes the entire story and its feel is the conversation backstage between Dorian Gray and Sibyl Vane after her first listless performance.  She is an exquisitely talented and lovely actress whose skill upon the stage leads Dorian to fall in love with her.  He goes to see her every night and marvels at her ability to play multiple characters so beautifully.  However, one fateful night, she acts without feeling or emotion, and confused, Dorian goes backstage to discover why. She says that she did it because her work and subsequent “loves” on the stage pale in comparison to the actual love that she has for Dorian.  This infuriates him and thoroughly disappoints his image of her as an actress.

She says: “Don’t be cruel to me, because I love you better than anything in the world.  After all, it is only once that I have not pleased you.  But you are quite right, Dorian.  I should have shown myself more of an artist.  It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn’t help it.  Oh, don’t leave me, don’t leave me!”  A fit of passionate sobbing choked her.  She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiseled lips curled in exquisite disdain.  There is always something ridiculous about the emotion of people whom one has ceased to love.  Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic.  Her tears and sobs annoyed him.

This passage is an excellent example of good storytelling in the novel because it shows the theme of pleasure that consistently reappears throughout the novel.  Because of Lord Henry’s (his friend) influence, Dorian becomes more and more hedonistic and believes his life to be like a Greek or Shakespearean play in which he is the perfect Greek sculpture and everyone around him must live to suit his romantic fancies.  And his simple discarding of Sibyl Vane after she has ruined herself in his eyes because she has forgone her art is a prime indicator of the future path this interesting novel is taking.

A New Outlet

As of today I will also be using my blog as a medium for some of my AP English assignments.  Thank you and enjoy the first hand look at the American private education system.

Ubiquitous Surveillance

Your cellphone.  Small, handy, and practically necessary in your day-to-day life, this useful device is the technological friend of millions. But did you know that you favorite little gadget can be tracked by the government?  According to the ACLU in this article, Sprint Nexel provided law enforcement agencies with the location of their customers over 8 million times using the GPS chip in their cellphone.  Fortunately, the ACLU is pushing hard for privacy legislation to help protect Americans from the prying hands of an overbearing government.  Only time will tell if Americans will be able to feel secure in having and accessing their cellphones on a daily basis.